Will Hoge: The Redemption of Rock N Roll
I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I
needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.
-Jon Landau, The Real Paper, May 22, 1974
Musical revelations are few and far between post-college. Everyone I know who was bitten by the bug of rock n roll had it occur during their formative years (14-22). This is where you discover both the new and the old through roommates, friends, friends of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, sitting around smoking, drinking at a party or even getting it on in the backseat of a car. Music is the soundtrack that defines our lives, gives us memories, nostalgia and the eternal feeling of being sixteen without a worry in the world. It is during this time when you hear a certain song, album or artist who you bond with like a first love. When one enters their late 20's rock n roll becomes old. Even though many of our favorite artists go onto greater heights, the real world becomes much more than a MTV delicacy but something brutal, harsh, sucks the marrow of life and in most cases overcomes us. We turn into cynical people more worried about what our boss thinks of us and how we are going to put food on the tables for our families instead of romanticizing about rock stars and their newest albums. The romance of rock n roll disappears quicker than the gas tank of a SUV and becomes merely a product of passing time going from point A to point B. However, it doesnt have to be that way. Occasionally a savior rises from the ashes of our broken hopes and dreams to restore our faith not only in rock n roll, but in ourselves as well.
In 1974, music critic Jon Landau walked into a small Boston club and witnessed rock n roll history in the form of a 24-year-old from New Jersey who restored Landaus faith in rock n roll through the magic of live performance. This now infamous review Landau wrote went on to become one of the defining pieces of prose to ever be written about rock n roll and helped launch Bruce Springsteens career to unprecedented heights when he released his next album, Born To Run. Artists find us at crossroads in our lives when we most need them and more times than not, by accident. Earlier this year, I had a musical revelation of unimaginable significance. It was so monstrously momentous that for the first time in my life, I know exactly how Jon Landau felt when witnessing Bruce Springsteen over thirty-years ago.
-Not That Cool
I had never heard of Will Hoge before a cold night last March when I entered the House of Blues to review an up and coming artist who Will was opening for. As I was walking in, I heard what could have been an outtake from the Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street. Better Off Now served notice immediately this would not be an ordinary opening act. As I turned to corner, I received my first glimpse of Will Hoge; skinny and in a t-shirt, jeans, winter cap, a deep 5 oclock shadow playing a Fender Telecaster. I felt like I was right back in 1974 with Jon Landau see Bruce Springsteen. Regardless of who he resembled, Will Hoge had me by the jugular and he held that grasp on me until the house lights went on an hour later. I watched him spiritedly run across the stage and felt the entire fifty-years of rock n roll history flash before my eyes and run through the blood in my veins; from Elvis Presley to The Beatles to Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers Band to The Clash to John Mellencamp to Green Day to the Counting Crows to Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen. Hoge enthralled the capacity crowd with his high energy full throttle rock and soul revue. Most writers and critics are always heralding a new band for making music never heard before. Well, let me tell you it does not take a genius to realize something sounds unlike anything else. However, the challenge is to take your influences and make those artists sounds and styles your own which is why I felt like Wills show was a timeless jukebox of the entire fifty-year history of rock n roll. With each note sung and every chord hit, I was in awe at the spirit and control Hoge had over the audience climaxing with a truly magnanimous moment. Will asked for the place to be quiet so he could sing a song a capella without a microphone. He stepped away from the microphone stand and sung his heart out across the crowd. Right at this moment, I witnessed something I have never seen before in two-hundred plus concerts; each and every one of the 1,400 in attendance became dead silent. They put down the booze, stopped gabbing and for a brief few minutes, every single persons eyes and ears were focused on Will Hoge. Since the show I saw in March, I have talked up Will to every person I have come in touch with because the performance was so unquestionably compelling that no bit of prose could ever give it justice. All I do know is that I had a transcendental experience watching this man thrive in the glory of rock n roll. Wills performance was redemptive, resounding, redeeming and most importantly rocking.
As soon as the set ended, I made my way to the merchandise table to grab his new live cd, During The Before and After. On the way home and over the next week, the songs on this disc resonated with me more intensely than any bootleg, live or studio album I had heard in recent memory. Bands usually go in and edit their live recordings or sequence them to the point that the feeling of being there is completely lost. The down and dirty grittiness of live rock n roll is here in all its glory, something usually only a remarkable bootleg can occasionally capture. For the first time since the invention of the CD, During The Before and After has captured the live concert experience flawlessly and is the most exhilarating and vital live album to be released since The Whos Live At Leeds and the Rolling Stones Get Your Ya-Yas Out, each recorded over three decades earlier.
I immediately sought out Wills other albums and was stunned to find two lost albums and a stunning EP that have gone largely unnoticed in the media and marketplace. His melodious debut, Carousel (2000), is easy on the ears and is an album that holds up particularly well illustrating right from the beginning, he was no fluke. The roof raising She Dont Care has a groove so sweet it could make Ronnie Van Zandt rise from his grave. Let Me Be Lonely and Ms. Williams are ferocious crowd pleasers. The mid-tempo bass beat of Ms. Williams brings the crowd to their feet in concert. Your Fool has a chorus that glistens and the title track displays the profound soulful voice within the framework of Will Hoge.
Blackbird On A Lonely Wire (2003) is a lost treasure produced by Grammy winning producer Jon Shanks (Bon Jovi, Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow). One listen to this album and youll shake your head in disbelief as to why this was not all over the radio upon its release. Not That Cool is the catchiest pick up song ever written. Secondhand Heart yearns for freedom from a love one can not let go of. Doesnt Have To Be That Way is a bluesy anthem written for smoke filled music halls. Its A Shame is a mid-tempo fist-flying anthem made to take live performances to that next level. Someone Elses Baby could be viewed as a sentimental throwaway, but instead it has a melancholy feel to it that makes girls melt and guys smile as they yearn for a lost love. Better Off Now is a tear down the walls anthem so damn good it could have fit right next to Rip This Joint on Exile On Main Street. If that was not enough to raise the roof there is the smoking All Night Long which would leave most clubs in ashes upon its climax.
The American EP (2004) was written and recorded in a burst of inspiration from the bands road travels in a bus that had logged some 300,000 miles touring across America. This EP is a stunning collection of songs that aims right for the heart. Inspired by the lost souls they encountered on the road- in rest stops, diners, camp grounds and anywhere a conversation evolved- these songs speak to the heart of the consciousness of America in the here and now. Right wing or left wing does not matter as these songs evoke intense emotions whether you are living in a small town or in New York City. There is no better illustration of this than on the philosophical battle torn prayer Bible vs. Gun, which would make Bob Dylan mumble with glee. These songs ask valid questions we all think about, but too often do not speak of. A great storyteller shines a light on difficult life circumstances and if theyre really talented, theyll enlighten your soul in the process. Will Hoge enlightens the mind, body and soul with his music and The American EP is a courageous step in the next direction as an artist, the same way Darkness On The Edge of Town was an important step in Bruce Springsteens career path.
That maybe we ain't that young anymore
Show a little faith, there's magic in the night
-Thunder Road-Bruce Springsteen
Like Jon Landau thirty-years ago, Im in my late 20s and cant help but feel a part of my life is slipping away and I find myself retreating to the music of U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Beatles, Johnny Cash and others from past generations. However, I have had a hard time finding an artist from my own generation that speaks to me. However, over the last seven months that has all changed as Will Hoge has emerged as an essential and significant artist in my life. When Will and his band unexpectedly tore down the walls of the House of Blues earlier this year, I saw rock n rolls past, present and future pass before my eyes and ears. Never before have I seen an artist, this young, so in control and confident with his craft. He evoked emotions and feelings I did not even know could be experienced. Like Bruce Springsteen, Will Hoge writes about the poets, lovers, dreamers, sinners and those who simply grapple with lifes challenges. Despite the harsh realities in some of the lyrics, deep down there is a sense of optimism and hope which I take away with me to give me comfort and most importantly hope. I believe in the power and redemption of rock n roll, I believe that music can transform lives and I believe Will Hoge is one of those rare artists who will be with me (and hopefully many others) on my continued life journey.
People often ask me why I take music so seriously. I believe art is given to us to help us make it through life when we are dealt a bad hand. Music should open your eyes and heart to the world and if you truly feel connected to it, it has the power to transform your life. To some, rock n roll is just a way to get from point A to point B, for me its a vital artery, without it, I would die. There are days where I feel bruised and battered and my only salvation comes in the form of a four-minute song that will give me solace. Its rare I find an artist who right from the get-go I know I will follow them my entire life-buying every album, finding every rare import and getting my hands on any and all bootlegs to relive the concert going experience. Will Hoge gives me hope in the future of rock n roll and even more important, he gives me faith in myself and my future. That in itself is magic in the night.